Bank of China

Peis leave family legacy on skyline of Beijing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 12:00am

I.M. PEI, THE RENOWNED Chinese architect yesterday visited the new headquarters of the Bank of China, designed by his two sons and his family's elegant legacy to the Beijing skyline.

The building, with 1.7 million square feet of space, overlooks Chang An Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare of the capital, at the southern end of Xidan Street, one of the city's major commercial streets. It marks part of the rapid transformation of the skyline over central Beijing that has aroused mixed feelings among local people.

The building opened for business in early May and the bank is hosting a reception tomorrow evening to mark the completion of the seven-billion-yuan (about HK$6.5 billion) project.

Mr Pei, who designed the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the glass 'pyramid' in the central courtyard of the Louvre in Paris, has arrived in Beijing to attend the reception, along with his two sons, Chien Chung and Li Chung. All three work for Pei Partnership Architects of New York.

The new headquarters for the bank - which is China's most profitable state bank and ranks as a Fortune 500 company - consists of two L-shaped wings enclosing a central garden court of 32,500 sq ft, with two clumps of bamboo trees and a rock pool filled with goldfish, traditional symbols of good fortune.

The garden contains seven groups of rock brought with special government approval 2,800 kilometres away from the Stone Forest, a protected national park in Yunnan province. It also contains 15-metre-high bamboo brought by truck on a three-day journey from Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province.

This garden court gives the building a quality of air and light which is absent in most of the new structures of modern Beijing, where architects have had the primary aim of gaining the maximum floor space per dollar.

People can walk through the ground-floor court even if they are not bank customers.

'All the Chinese banks are building new headquarters,'one woman admiring the garden court said. 'For me, this is the nicest and most elegant. That is why the bank hired the Peis to build it.'

In a statement, the Pei Partnership said: 'The atrium illuminates and animates the head office and serves as its functional and symbolic core. Executive offices and reception rooms look into the atrium.

'Lower-level conference rooms, dining areas and other communal services lead off it and clients pass through it on their way to either of the two stacked banking halls that accommodate the bank's 70 tellers.'

The executive offices are housed in the smaller of the two wings, which has a 59-metre curtain wall in its corner. The other, larger wing houses all other offices for the 2,500 employees, a 2,000-seat auditorium, a monumental banking hall, reception hall, dining and other employee services, 100,000 sqfeet of leasable office space and a 500-space car park. It includes a 24-hour foreign-exchange trading room and a global-network control centre.

It is the first building in China clad in a building material called travertine. A total of 430,000 sqft of this material was cut from a single quarry and covered with the same honey-covered finish.

The building marks a link of three generations of the Pei family with the Bank of China, which was known until 1912 as the Bank of Great Qing, became China's foreign-exchange bank in 1928 and specialised in foreign trade under Communist rule in 1953.

Tsuyee Pei was a governor of the board of the original bank and his son, I.M. Pei, designed the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong in 1989. Then it was the turn of Tsuyee Pei's grandsons, Chien Chung and Li Chung, to design the new building.

It is situated about a kilometre from the People's Bank, the central bank, which marks the southern end of a district the local government calls 'Wall Street' and intends to be the financial centre of a rapidly-changing Beijing.

Over the past 10 years, the centre of Beijing has been changed beyond recognition by the demolition of traditional one- and two-storey grey-brick buildings and their replacement with skyscraper office blocks, hotels and government buildings.

The changes have aroused strong emotions among Beijing people. While some welcome the new structures, others say the Government is destroying the 800-year-old fabric of the ancient city.

Nowhere is this controversy more intense than in the proposed National Theatre, under construction about a kilometre away from the new bank building and west of the Great Hall of the People.

China's leaders chose the design of a translucent glass-and-titanium bubble nestling on a lake, designed by French architect Paul Andreu.

So fierce was the opposition to the proposed design that work stopped in July last year for consultations, and resumed only on June 1, with a scaled-down version of the original proposal.

'This is the nicest and most elegant. That is why the bank hired the Peis to build it'

Mark O'Neill is a member of the Post's Beijing bureau